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Why It Took a UN Commission to Bring Down Corruption in Guatemala

By: Thabata Molina - Nov 5, 2015, 3:42 pm
Ongoing investigations from the Guatemalan Attorney General's Office and the CICIG continue to dismantle corruption networks in the country.
Ongoing investigations from the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office and the CICIG continue to dismantle corruption networks in the country. (PanAm Post)

EspañolGuatemalans will remember 2015 as the year in which numerous corruption cases were exposed. Several investigations led by the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) shook national politics at the highest levels. In one case, now former President Otto Pérez Molina was forced to resign and face the music.

Roughly 95 percent of Guatemalans approve of the CICIG’s role in the country. The UN-backed commission was created in 2007 as a result of the Guatemalan public’s demands for an independent body to fight corruption in the country’s decaying institutions.

This year, Guatemalan authorities, acting under CICIG’s auspices, arrested Pérez Molina, his Vice President Roxana Baldetti, her private secretary Juan Carlos Monsoon, and Speaker Pedro Muadi. The list goes on, as does the investigation.

Manfredo Marroquín, chairman of Guatemalan Citizen Action, an NGO, tells the PanAm Post and that “all actions to dismantle Guatemala’s networks of corruption are possible, because the CICIG is an independent body.” He adds that “corruption has infiltrated all state institutions, so that the work of CICIG Commissioner Iván Velásquez has been crucial to stop the rot that set in under criminal governments. That is why he counts with the full support of Guatemalan citizens.”

A Slow Process

To this date, CICIG’s biggest success against Guatemalan government corruption has been revealing a customs tax-fraud scheme, which became known as “The Line.”

After Pérez Molina’s role in the scandal came to light, Guatemalans learned that over 30 public officials from different offices were also involved in the customs scheme. Middle and low-ranking officials have been formally accused of embezzling public funds and of requesting bribes to allow imports.

“The list of corrupt officials is long,” Marroquín says. “For years, corrupt officials have been able to infiltrate practically every state institution. Dismantling these networks will take time. The CICIG doesn’t have an infinite amount of resources, so it’s naturally a slow process.”

Once the government’s top brass had been toppled, former Speaker Muadi was arrested on October 30 for amassing the salaries of 25 phantom jobs which he created during his tenure in 2013. The arrest came after the Supreme Court of Justice announced on October 20 that it would strip Muadi of his immunity from prosecution, as it had previously done with Pérez Molina. The next day, Muadi resigned his seat in Congress, and he attended his first trial hearing on November 4.

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Further investigations led to the issuing of arrest warrants for another 11 public officials last week. Among them is Gustavo Alejos, former secretary general to former President Álvaro Colom, who governed from 2008 until 2012.

According to CICIG Commissioner Velásquez and Attorney General Thelma Aldana, Alejos and the other officials are accused of soliciting bribes to award contracts to purchase medicine and medical services through the Guatemalan Institute for Social Security (IGSS) during Colom’s administration.

On Monday, November 2, Security Vice Minister Elmer Sosa said that the government is considering placing a bounty on Alejos’s head. The previous week, Interpol issued a red notice requesting information on Alejos’s whereabouts, stating that he is accused of influence-peddling and bribery.

Marroquín explains that CICIG has popular support since it is carrying out a task which the citizenship demanded. He says that the investigations have dealt many setbacks to corrupt politicians, who are losing power consistently. “They are falling like domino pieces. They used to be confident, but the rules of the game have changed so that there is no more impunity.”

Despite its wide support as an investigative body, the CICIG’s critics claim that the organization is a shadow body through which the United States and United Nations can control the Guatemalan government.

However, a survey published in the local press shows that 97 percent of Guatemalans believe that the CICIG carries out a necessary role in the country. Another 96 percent, meanwhile called for President-elect Jimmy Morales to extend the Commission’s mandate which, under current terms, runs only until 2017.

From Marroquín’s point of view, “defending the sovereignty of a country infested with corruption makes no sense. Guatemalans requested the CICIG’s creation, and the government asked the United Nations to give shape to such a commission. It was no foreign imposition, and now we hope that it can continue with its task.”

Translated by Adam Dubove.

Thabata Molina Thabata Molina

Thabata Molina is a Venezuelan reporter who focuses on public safety, violence, and penitentiary conflicts. She has contributed to national newspapers such as El Nacional and El Universal for 12 years. Originally from Caracas, she now lives in Panama. Follow @Thabatica.